Category Archives: Church membership

Doctrine “and” ethics

Everything in the Christian life is doctrine. Very often Christians equate “doctrine” with “theology.” That makes sense. We have the doctrine of God, doctrine of man, doctrine of Scripture, and so forth. Those are the Bible’s teachings on certain topics. Those doctrines are what we call theology.

But the word “doctrine” is simply the word “teaching.” Therefore, the Bible teaches us what to believe and how to live. The Bible teaches us theology and ethics. The Bible teaches us that God is a Trinity, and that we must worship Him. The Bible teaches us that man is sinful, and that we must confront sinners if we are to call ourselves Christians. The Bible teaches us that the church is God’s “called out” community, and that the church must love one another.

There is no dichotomy between doctrine and ethics, right theology and right living. The Bible teaches us what to believe is right theology, and what to believe is right living (i.e., “I believe God is one, and I believe a man should be faithful to his wife”). It is no wonder Paul would tell Timothy that the Law is meant to confront all who break the law– “lawless and disobedient…ungodly…murderers…sexually immoral…liars…and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim 1.8-11). Everything in the Christian life is doctrine. God has taught us what to believe about everything that has to do with pleasing Him.

This is why our church has a Statement of Faith (theology) and Church Covenant (ethics). It is the only way we know how to uphold Christian doctrine.


Why church discipline is so hard to apply in America

“Let him who has done this be removed from among you…purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5.2, 13)

Christians in our country cannot fathom this, that a church would remove someone from their midst because of sin. There are at least three reasons for this problem:

  1. They cannot fathom this because they cannot fathom a whole church being “mean.” This just does not sound “nice”! And in their minds, how in the world would anyone want to become a Christian if they heard we were mean to each other like this?
  2. They cannot fathom this because they have never seen a church that resembles the Corinthian situation. I repeat: if you live in the U.S. (and have not traveled abroad to other churches), you have never seen a church that resembles the Corinthian situation. The only way Paul’s command makes sense is if pretty much everyone who showed up to the Corinthian gathering was a believer, who wanted to be there, and even when there was major conflict, they wanted to be there. And even if they were living in sin, they wanted to be there. And there was no other church up the road (or church on TV) that they could run to if they felt their needs were not met at the Corinthian gathering. “Remove the immoral brother” means the immoral brother needed to be removed; he did not remove himself.
  3. They cannot fathom this because repentance is so often not at the forefront of gospel preaching. Church discipline makes no sense if repentance is not at the forefront. Because we are all sinners. How can sinners discipline sinners? It makes no sense!

In response: “nice” is not the same as loving. Church membership is the only way to “re-create” a more comparable situation. And we should be very clear that we are not merely sinners in Christ, but repentant sinners. And those who do not repent will not see the Kingdom of God. Do not ignore certain commands just because it is hard to fathom.

The Debate heard under water

I do not blame you if this kind of stuff does not intrigue you, but I never get tired of talking about it. There has been a good series of great writers weighing in on credobaptism vs paedobaptism, and its implications for young children. You should consider skimming through it:

And this may be the best one:

I really do not have much to add. I definitely lean toward Patrick Schreiner’s position. One thing I would say is that a church should probably have more say about whether an individual should get baptized than the individual in question should. We should expect that the local church would be able to discern a person’s life better than the person (whether the individual wants to get baptized or whether the individual is hesitant to get baptized because they are not sure if they are a Christian).

Classic Mark Dever

Marvin Olasky, of World Magazine, recently interviewed Mark Dever. Watch the interview here. I am thankful for the way the Lord has used Mark in my life. If nothing else, you should listen from the 18:30 mark. They spend about 15 minutes or so talking about the 9 marks of a healthy church.


You should consider becoming a Presbyterian, part 8

I am a Baptist. But I think every Baptistic person should consider becoming a Presbyterian at some point in order to see how strong their arguments are (and then, after seeing counter-arguments, becoming more Scripturally convicted), in order to show respect to their rich history, and even to love them and see how united we really are in the gospel.

To really understand the paedobaptist position, you have to understand that they are not looking for explicit commands that say, “baptize your infants.” In a Presbyterian’s mind, the OT was abundantly clear that infants should be included in the covenant people. They say to Baptists, “where is the command to not baptize infants?” Here are some of the passages that exclude infants from automatic inclusion:

  • Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36: Jeremiah prophecies that in the New Covenant, every covenant member will have the law written on their heart and have their sins forgiven. Ezekiel prophecies that they will be sprinkled clean, receive a new heart, and receive God’s Spirit. The point is that God promises to do something for New Covenant members that Old Covenant members could not do on their own. You have to decide what is new about the New Covenant: is it that God does radical things now for New Covenant members, or is it that God will probably do radical things for most New Covenant members?
  • Romans 6.3-4 and Galatians 3.27: Paul says “us who have been baptized” and “as many of you who have been baptized.” He appeals to the experience of baptism. Let me just say, you do not have to remember your circumcision in order to know you were circumcised. By contrast, the only way you can know you were baptized as an infant is if somebody told you, and that would make these verses lose a tiny bit of punch. Also, in both passages Paul connects baptism to our union with Christ. He does not just connect them conceptually (which he does), but experientially. You are to think of your baptism as the visible sign that you are– not might be one day– united to Christ.
  • Galatians 6.15: Paul contrasts two things– circumcision and “a new creation.” Why? Because Paul thinks covenantally, and the Old Covenant sign is circumcision and the exact parallel is not baptism, but a new heart. There is one way in to either covenant: circumcision for the Old, regeneration for the New.
  • 1 Peter 3.21: Peter says “baptism…saves you.” How can he say that and still believe in justification by faith alone? Simply, baptism is “your appeal to God for a good conscience.” Baptism is your “sinners’ prayer.” Baptism is your public profession of faith. If I was a child in the first century hearing Peter’s words here, I would think it odd that Peter excludes me and all my friends my age from the baptism discussion.
  • Acts 15.1-35: it is sometimes good to argue from silence. There is a glaring silence about infant baptism in the Jerusalem council. The question at hand was if Gentiles needed to be circumcised. Why not mention that baptism replaced circumcision as the covenant sign? As a Baptist, I say, it’s because it does not replace it in the way regeneration does, and so the question about circumcision is really about whether this is a Jewish religion or not. Presbyterians would say baptism does replace circumcision, but the council is trying to address the heresy of justification by works. Two responses: one, no they are not. They are dealing with Christians in Acts 15. It is naive to say that all those influenced by Judaizers are non-Christians preaching a different gospel (think Galatian churches). Two, talking about baptism would still have ended the debate, if indeed the early church understood that you must baptize infants the way you used to circumcise infants.

In God’s providence, the entire NT was written 20-70 years after the ascension of Christ. Are you telling me, with all the number of children that would be born through those years, with all the Gentile churches with non-Jewish backgrounds mixed in, with the importance of the sacraments, there would not be a single mention of infant baptism?

You should consider becoming a Presbyterian, part 6

The meaning of the Sacraments, part 2

In the last post I argued that only believers should receive baptism because in baptism, God promises forgiveness of sins. But Presbyterians would respond by saying that in circumcision, God promised the land of Canaan, and not all recipients of circumcision received what was promised. Israelites messed up, not God; yet Israelite infants still receive the covenant sign. So we should still give the covenant sign to infants today, even if we could end up messing up, and not receiving what was promised. It does not change who should receive the covenant signs.

Let me begin by saying this is a strong argument. There is undoubtedly a parallel between circumcision and baptism. Both are signs that you have entered into a covenant with God. Both are more about what God promises than what mankind is committing to. But here are three reasons I reject that reasoning:

1. The connection between covenant entrance and covenant renewal (Exodus 12.48)- Only males who were circumcised, and presumably their families, could partake of the Passover. But that meant that everyone who was circumcised should take the Passover. There is a parallel connection between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Only those baptized should partake, but all who are baptized should partake (assuming they are in good fellowship). Most (?) Presbyterians would not allow their children to partake of the Lord’s Supper until they are sure their children have been converted. In that way, they are Baptistic. However, I see no reason why they should withhold the Lord’s Supper from the very people they baptize, namely their children. Sure, perhaps we wait till their kids can eat solid food and drink juice (or wine!). But as soon as they can, there is no reason to withhold! They would argue that the NT makes it clear that the Lord’s Supper is only for born again believers. But at that point, they sound like they make the same arguments Baptists make about baptism.

2. What is actually promised to New Covenant members (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, Matthew 26)- What is new about the New Covenant is that every covenant member receives forgiveness of sins, has the Law written on their hearts in a new way, and receives the Spirit.  What is perhaps the most obvious aspect about the death of Christ, but often overlooked, may also be the most obvious argument for a particular atonement. The cup in the Lord’s Supper is the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood! He purchased forgiveness of sins, a new heart, and an indwelling of the Spirit for everyone in the New Covenant, didn’t He? He purchased it for them, and only for them. I respect paedobaptists more who would say “this baptism GUARANTEES forgiveness of sins for my child,” but all of us I am certain want to stay away from that for obvious reasons. But once you move away from that, you move away from a definite atonement. (I pray this does not cause any Presbyterian to become a 4-pt Calvinist instead, seriously)

3. Even understanding circumcision in its own context (Genesis 17)- the way circumcision was given indicates God intended for the covenant community to be of a different nature from the New Covenant community. The circumcision community was intended to be a mixed community. It is not merely that the Israelites messed it up, and that is why they did not receive what was promised. God simply intended that not every circumcised person receive what was promised. He commanded “every male among you” to be circumcised. But that was after He already told Abraham that Isaac was the promised seed, not Ishmael. Yet “every male”, including Ishmael, must be circumcised. Esau was circumcised as well. Plus, “every male among you” implies it is every male in your family. There was an ethnic connection to circumcision that is not there in the New Covenant. If you were an Israelite, but were not circumcised, you would be cut off from the people. But you would still be an Israelite in the flesh. If you are not baptized, you will be cut off from the Christian Church. But that calls into question whether you are a Christian at all. God simply intends for the Old Covenant community to be mixed, and the New Covenant community to be only born again, forgiven believers.

Which is more important on earth: the Lord’s Supper or church membership?

Sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it? Obviously, the Lord’s Supper is more important than church membership.

But read the question again. Couldn’t we say there’s another sense in which church membership is more important on earth? In the eternal state, there will be one Body of Christ in which you will not have to make distinctions between Presbyterians and Baptists, or worry about transferring membership from First Baptist to Second Baptist. In short: on earth, church membership matters; in heaven, it won’t.

This whole issue is one I constantly wrestle with. I do believe in the grand scheme of things the Lord’s Supper is more important than church membership. Where it gets sticky is I would allow more people to partake of the Lord’s Supper than I would allow to become members of the church. To some, that probably makes it seem like I take church membership more seriously than I do the Lord’s Supper.

I think my practice is consistent with everything I’ve said about the prioritization of both issues on earth. In one sense, I have to bar certain Christians from membership if they cannot affirm our doctrinal statement, because church membership matters more on earth than it will in heaven. In the other sense, I have to allow more Christians to take the Lord’s Supper regardless  of what they believe because I think that meal is more about the Body than it is about our local body.

Can’t wait till the Marriage Supper.